The six best personal cloud storage choices for your stuff

The six best personal cloud storage choices for your stuff

Summary: Dropbox just added more free storage for their customers, so are they the best personal cloud storage? Or is its Google's mish-mash of cloud services? Apple's iCloud? Perhaps even Microsoft's SkyDrive? Or, some other service entirely? Let's take a look at today's most popular choices.

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Dropbox works smoothly with your operating system, no matter which OS you use.

Dropbox works smoothly with your operating system, no matter which OS you use.

Recently, Dropbox the popular cloud-storage company doubled the amount of free space you got for inviting friends to Dropbox. How much is that? For every friend you'd invite who installed Dropbox, you'd both get 500 more MBs of free space. With a free account, you can invite up to 32 people for a grand total of 16 GB of extra space. Pro, read paid, accounts now earn 1 GB per referral, for a total of 32 GB of extra space. Better still, you get this space retroactively if you'd already gotten people to give Dropbox a try.

That's great, but does it make Dropbox the best of the personal cloud storage services? Maybe. Everyone, and I mean everyone, is offering some kind of infrastructure as a service (IaaS) cloud services lately. In IaaS that you find file storage, ala Dropbox, but other companies like Apple, Google and Microsoft are also offering storage, media serving, and other IaaS ad hoc services for either free or minimal prices.

The six best personal cloud storage options (gallery)

These services are transforming rapidly. Prices, amounts of free storage, and additional services beyond pure storage are constantly being changed. Here's what's what with them though in the spring of 2012.

Amazon Cloud Drive/Player: When you think Amazon and clouds you probably think about Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), the biggest public cloud service. But, Amazon's services aren't just for businesses. Cloud Drive provides 20GBs of free storage and you can also use that storage to stream music to up to eight devices. If you buy your music from Amazon you can also store your music there without using any of your free storage. Unfortunately, to upload files you must use a rather klutzy Flash interface.

To both upload and download music you'll need to use the Web-based Amazon Cloud Player. There's also an Android Amazon cloud player.

If you want more storage, and if you intend on using Amazon to store your music collection you will, Google offers several tiers of storage, ranging from 20 to 1,000 gigabytes at a price of $1.00 per gigabyte. So, for instance, 20GBs will run you $20 per year.

Apple iCloud: iCloud comes with 5GBs of free storage. MobileMe customers receive 20GB of additional iCloud storage space for free, if they pick it up by June 30, 2012. Like Amazon's Cloud Drive, it's actually more than just storage. Any music, apps, books, and TV shows you purchase from the iTunes store, as well as your Photo Stream, don't count against your storage quota.

Apple's iCloud gives you not just storage and an online music server, it also includes all of Apple's wireless services. These include contact synchronization, its own e-mail service, mobile backup, and location awareness.

ICloud also works hand in glove with iTunes Match. Match, which is built into the iTunes app lets you store your entire music collection, no matter its source in iCloud for just $24.99 a year. Music that's already in iTunes, even if you didn't buy it from Apple, doesn't count against your storage limits.

Basic iCloud services are available via the Web on any platform. To really use it to its full potential you need to be running a Mac with Lion or an iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch running iOS5. It also runs reasonably well with Windows with the latest version of iTunes. What about your Mac running Snow Leopard or an older version of Mac OS X? You're out of luck.

Additional space is priced at $20 per year for 10GB, $40 per year for 20GB, and $100 per year for 50GB.

Dropbox: Dropbox wasn't the first cloud-based storage service but it was the one that popularized it. Unlike the other cloud systems, Dropbox doesn't need a Web-browser interface. It will run natively on almost any PC, including Linux or devices running Android or iOS.

What I really like about Dropbox is that I can use it just like it was any other network drive with my file manager. Unlike the other services, there are no extras. Dropbox offers file storage without any frills. On the other hand, sometimes that's all you need and since it lets you easily get to your most important files no matter what device you're using I find it extremely handy.

Dropbox only comes with 2GBs of free storage, but since it's primary for documents and not media, that may be all you need. If you want more, Dropbox charges $9.99 a month for 50GBs and $19.99 for 100GBs. Even with the free additional storage, that makes it one of the more expensive services if you a lot of space.

Google Play and Google Docs. OK, so we all want Google to offer a "G drive." So far, however, despite the endless rumors, they haven't come through with it. In the meantime, Google already offers a music and e-book storage service. Unlike the other services though Google doesn't give you a fixed amount of storage space. Instead, you can it to store up to 20,000 songs. Google provides a counter to let you know how close you are to hitting your limit. At an estimated 5MBs a song that works out to about 20GBs of storage.

Google Music feedback is available via a Web browser on any PC and on Android devices with the Google Music App.. You can play Your Google Music tracks on any number of PCs and up to eight Android devices. However, you can only listen to them on one device at a time. To upload music, you must use Google Music Manager. It's available on Linux, Mac, and Windows. You can also buy music from the built-in Google Music Store

Google Docs includes a GB of free storage. Additional Google Docs storage is cheap. It starts at $5 a year for 20GBs of additional space.

Microsoft SkyDrive, like Google's offerings is a sort of, kind of, storage service. True, it lets you save, share and access files but you must use it through a browser, IE by choice but it will work with others. However, there are rumors afoot that, like iCloud and Ubuntu One before it, Microsoft will integrate SkyDrive with its operating system. The word is that SkyDrive will be integrated into the Windows 8 file manager in the same way Dropbox already works with almost all operating system file managers.

Microsoft, however, is also trying to sell it, together with Office Web Apps and local Microsoft Office software, as a project collaboration package. I find it a little klutzy myself. To really use it you pretty much have to be committed, ala iCloud, to up to date Microsoft software. That said, the one thing you can't argue about is its price: SkyDrive comes with 25GBs of free storage. That's far more than the others.

For Windows users, SkyDrive may soon be the cloud storage solution of choice. It's just not quite there yet.

Ubuntu One: You might think that this service would be for Ubuntu Linux users, or at least Linux users, only. You'd be wrong. This service, which offers 5GBs of free storage and music streaming is also available on Windows. Ubuntu One is also available on both Android and iOS.

I like Ubuntu One, but I've found that it has trouble running on Windows 7, but not XP, at times. I've yet to pin down a hard reason for this.

The Ubuntu One music streaming service, which currently comes with 20GBs of storage, is completely fee-based. It costs $3.99 a month or $39.99 a year. If you need more pure storage space for files and the like over the initial 5GBs, it's $2.99 per month or $29.99 per year per 20GBs of storage.

So which is the best? I use all of them, but when it comes to the bread and butter work of cloud file serving, I have to say Dropbox is still the best of the lot.

No, Dropbox doesn't have any bells or whistle. No, it doesn't offer the most storage for the least amount of money. All it does is let me create, add, delete, move, copy, edit, whatever, file and directories just as if they were any other files on my system. It doesn't matter if I'm using a Linux, Mac, or Windows box or most smartphones or tablets; it just works with their native interfaces. That means I don't have to think about how to use it, I can just use it. That makes it a winner in my book.

That said, with Apple, Microsoft and Canonical, Ubuntu's parent company, all integrating their cloud services right into the operating system, Dropbox may be bettered by the year's end. And, of course, Google may yet change everything. Still, for now, Dropbox is the best pure play personal cloud file storage.

Related Stories:

Google Drive expected to launch in April: Is it too late?

Dropbox adds Facebook sharing

AppSense launches free Dropbox security product

Microsoft SkyDrive app released for Windows Phone and iPhone

BitTorrent declares war on Dropbox, sharing services

Topics: Storage, Amazon, Apple, CXO, Cloud, Google, Hardware

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102 comments
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  • Kudos to Steven

    Finally, a review article where Google didn't win.
    Rabid Howler Monkey
    • Nothing about SugarSync

      Kudos to Steven I agree with you, finally Google didn't win in a review these kind of reviews are rare where goole didn't win. Any ways I have been using SugarSync for a long, Steven didn't review about its feature. In the no doubt its really an informative post.
      seanwayne
  • I wonder how long before they become the next MegaUpload...

    I've been using MediaFire lately, but that's just for random stuff...not even sure of the size cap. I use SSH2 on my own server for personal documents I might need to grab in a pinch (password file, legal docs, etc).
    dtdono0
    • storage choices for your stuff

      Hello,
      I would like to know more about your experience. Why you use random stuff. I also use it with random stuff I properly used size cap. Can you tell me why I fail to insert stuff? Is there any particular instruction to choose your stuff? Please tell me as soon as possible. Thanks in advance.
      NatalieDiaz56
  • Wow

    SugarSync is not on the list? Seriously compared others (Drop Box, Ubuntu One, iCloud, Skydrive) it is just so much better. Much better control over what gets synced where, and great mobile device support.

    I have never understood why people like Dropbox with its limited single folder sync. Do they really expect me to reorganize my folders under a single Drop Box folder?
    JeveSobs
    • SugarSync

      Totally agree. Certainly a gross exclusion. SugarSync is a very good quality product, which starts at 5G and increases without limit with each additionally invited unpaid-user by 500M and by 10G for invited users who pay.
      s_ktt
    • Leaving SugarSync out? Seriously?

      I've looked into the others (most anyway) and none that I'm aware of do what SS does. It's incredible for my needs and nothing else does it for me.
      dagrev
    • Doesn't work on Linux

      ....FAIL
      james.vandamme
      • why ?

        Hello james,
        Can you tell the reason? Do you have any bad experience with Linux? Then please share it with us. Thanks in advance.
        NatalieDiaz56
    • Ditto

      SugarSync is great and just works. 5 GB+ of free storage space (per email account) can't be beat.
      msmitchel
      • Sure it can...

        BOX has 5GB+ of free storage space, along with mobile access.
        kstagg
      • box.net

        If you sign up to Box using an android device you get 50GB free.
        Sir Carrington
    • Agree about Drop Box, disagree about SugarSync

      I originally liked sugar sync, but it "does not just work" it locks files while synchronizing. This is a big deal if the files you are using are, for instance, photoshop files. All of a sudden I am not able to save my work on a file as I edit it, because the first version is still uploading to the cloud. I confirmed this with Sugarsync support. This is a pain for files that you save once, then continue editing and try and save again. It forces you to save to an unsync'ed directory then move it to the sync'ed directory...sort of the problem I have with Drop box.

      I am surprised that the Microsoft solution you did not mention that there is already a 5 GB sychronization within the 25GB free skydrive, no browser necessary. It is Windows only, but it does not lock the files and works well in the background. This is a variation on their old Mesh technology. This solution was around for about 5 years....
      StanislavF
    • Sharing folders a problem

      I just now ran into a problem with sharing a folder via SugarSync. The recipient is required to set up an account with SugarSync. Problem is the recipient is a business and the IT administrator won't allow this account to be set up on a business computer. This means the only people I can send folders to is friends and family who are willing to set up an account with SugarSync, or those businesses who will allow people to set up said accounts.

      Most of the time for me, that's ok. But today I ended up having to send all the documents via email, one at a time. Bloody nuisance...
      nlbknitter
  • Public vs. personal clouds

    What you describe are public clouds. Personal clouds are clouds like the ones from Western Digital, or Windows Home Server. I am certainly not going to store very personal files in a public cloud, even if everyone else does so. On Windows side, I hope higher level Windows 8 SKUs have personal cloud features integrated into them, and services like Skydrive (or other third party services) will be able to be run from Windows 8 desktop PCs with the above SKUs, and act as truly personal clouds.
    P. Douglas
  • Perhaps next time Steven could cover some of the risks

    of using clouds in any format.

    Standard risks include down time and the risk of corruption, but what about getting hacked, subpoenas, theft, etc.

    What are the real risks of the Cloud?

    Does the convenience override the risk?
    Cynical99
  • P. Douglas and Cynical99 are both correct

    We here in Bubba's house moved off the Public cloud to our own personal in house Pogoplug device. Each family member, Bubba Jr, little Bubbett, and of course Momma Bubbett and me, all have their own storage device connected to Pogoplug. All can access their files from any computer and their iPhones. We do not need no stinking public cloud!

    Oops, Momma Bubbett is yelling at me, what have I now done wrong. :-(
    BubbaJones_
    • PogoPlug Questions

      From what I can tell, PogoPlug makes an index of every directory and file you have either shared from your pogoplug drives at home or shared from their 5gb public cloud. If you log onto the pogoplug cloud, you can see all your files, and I don't think they are encrypted while stored there. (They do use https for up/downloading, which helps prevent interception of your data.)

      I think Mozy allows you to generate a private/public key pair on your computer so that data stored on their servers is encrypted and only the private key can be used to decrypt it. I like this idea, but things like folder and file names are still plain-text, so searches (i.e. a subpoena) can still yield a lot of information about what you have stored on the cloud.

      I like the idea of having a totally encrypted cloud "data bank" used for off-site backup of my personal home cloud, but I don't see anyone who provides this out of the box.
      zdnet@...
      • 100% encryption protects your privacy and your files.

        There are services that allow you to save your files in a totally encrypted format using military grade encryption so that not even the hosting company can access them. As my company partners with the primary company I won't post names here so as to not violate any policies of these site, but they do exist.
        jerryw@...
  • I Would Add

    Box to the list. 50 Gb free for personal use.
    benched42